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Substance and accessibility. They’re often considered opposing forces when it comes to pop music, making it all the more impressive when a band like Scenic Route to Alaska so effortlessly delivers ample doses of both.
Since dropping their acclaimed third LP, Long Walk Home, in 2016, the prairie indie outfit has amassed an impressive pile of achievements and accolades at home and abroad. The album, which finds the trio effortlessly weaving catchy vocals and memorable melodies through rich arrangements, led to label signings and swelling success across Europe and Australia. It also spawned number ones on CBC Radio 2 and 3, two Western Canadian Music Award nods, and numerous TV placements on major networks. Now, the band is ready to build on that success with their upcoming fourth studio album, Tough Luck.
The easy-going Edmonton-based trio – Trevor Mann on lead vocals and guitar, drummer Shea Connor, and bassist Murray Wood – only picked up their instruments in their early teens, but didn’t waste any time getting started with the woodshedding. They formed a band and started practicing together, first on a slew of R&B and rock ‘n roll covers for wedding gigs and hall shows. Before long, they were in high demand and even being tapped as something of a session band for an array of local artists from a myriad of genres. Then, in 2010, well versed in the scene and familiar with virtually every venue in the city, the three close friends adopted the Scenic Route to Alaska moniker and their original and organic take on folk inspired indie pop was seeded.
Their early releases belied the youth of the band and its members, owing to their years of making music together and tight-knit friendship. The attention and accolades poured in and earned them performances at prestigious events like the Edmonton and Canmore Folk Festivals and CMW and shows alongside contemporaries like Hey Rosetta!, Said the Whale, and Born Ruffians.
As they did for Long Walk Home, Scenic Route to Alaska once again entered the studio with famed producer Howard Redekopp (Tegan & Sara, The New Pornographers) to cut the 10 tracks comprising Tough Luck. The album picks up where its heralded predecessor left off, capturing their tight and dynamic live sound with an organic and honest production that’s instantly engaging but begging to be heard again and again.
Lead single “Slow Down” perfectly embodies the sonic ambition showcased across the album. The instrumentals are nearly as hooky as the harmony-rich vocal melodies, combining a wide array of influences that harkens back to the mastery of Lennon and McCartney while simultaneously pushing forward with a refreshing take on alt-tinged folk rock.
Lyrically, Scenic Route to Alaska tackle the unique lifestyle they share as touring musicians on Tough Luck, contemplating themes like self-inflicted loneliness, fleeting relationships, and the ever-fine balance between the road and real life. While this sometimes inspires a sense of bleakness, overall, the band’s energy and buoyancy paints an overall picture of optimism and understanding.
Admirably, the album stays true to the band’s exciting live performances, where the energy is palpable and the fun contagious. Always locked in with a syncopation that can only stem from a long collective history, the boys bounce from ballads to bangers with ease, leaving a lasting impression on any kind of audience in front of them. That’ll be of particular benefit come their packed touring schedule in early 2018, which includes a slot at SXSW and a host of dates throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.
The band is perhaps best defined through dichotomy: young but mature, curious but collected, accessible but substantial. Such balance is all too rare in this scene, but thankfully, Scenic Route to Alaska strikes it with a style all their own.